them.: Queeroes 2018: Travon Free
Free knows his story won't represent all bisexual people, but he hopes to help others understand the daily realities people like him face.
“I really want to work to change the image of what it is to be a man and disconnect that entirely from who you sleep with,” says Travon Free, a comedian, writer, and now the creator of a new series in development with Issa Rae and HBO, called Him or Her. As the show’s title insinuates, he’s always had a specific challenge when it came to love and sexuality: choosing between the hims and the hers he’s attracted to out in the world.
His story breaks traditional molds on what self-identified queer men look like. Free is big sports fan, having played Division 1 basketball through college, standing 6’7” tall. When he was injured and unable to play, Free’s sense of humor reportedly kept his fellow players laughing, which would lead to his next steps.
Today, he’s an Emmy Award-winning television comedy writer with credits from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. He’s currently in the woods of California wrapping up filming for Camping, a new show coming to HBO this Fall starring Jennifer Garner.
As a bisexual man, he is representative of the largest self-identified slice of the LGBTQ+ pie. Yet bisexuals are also the least represented in queer media and culture — and, according to Free, they’re the least likely to believed because of it.
“I think it’s due, in part, to the dismissal of people being able to be attracted to more than one gender,” explains Free. “In media, for decades, we’ve seen it portrayed as a joke, and I think that’s not helped us in the real world at all.”
“To have bisexuality be a joke on various comedy shows… it creates the same situation for us in reality where people meet you and think of you the same way,” Free continues. “I encounter that all the time, where I’ve had friends say to me ‘if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t think it was a real thing,’ and I say to them ‘well, that’s unfortunate, you shouldn’t have to know me to believe someone’s identity.”
With the new show he’s developing, and his new level of visibility, Free is hoping to show the everyday life of a person who is attracted to men and women, but whose life isn’t centered around their sexuality. Him or Her will aim to show his experiences not only through the lens of his sexuality, but also being a Black millennial man, and the other other myriad intersections Free lives in.
He also wants to debunk old-line notions of masculinity, which he believes aren’t doing anyone any good. “I think if we can get to a place where more men who are across the spectrum can be more honest about their feelings around sexuality and not feel like it’s a detriment to who they are as a man,” Free explains, “I think we can rid society of so many problems that have a direct correlation to toxic and hyper-masculinity, [like for instance] school shootings.”
While one TV show is unlikely to change all those entrenched ideas, there are also very few other leading characters on television right now that are bisexual, meaning Free’s work is guaranteed to push the conversation forward.
Only a handful of popular characters of color on network TV have dabbled in bisexuality over the past few years, like Annalise Keating on Shonda Rhimes’ ABC hit How to Get Away with Murder and Randall’s father William on NBC’s This Is Us. These characters have shown us models for bisexuality that people can take seriously. With his forthcoming comedy, Free will have the unique challenge of balancing laughs with serious representation in telling his own story.
He makes no assertions that his story will represent all bisexual people. But with good storytelling and laughter, he hopes to help others understand the realities bisexual people like him face — and that’s a monumental step forward, no matter what.
Him or Her is currently in development at Issa Rae Productions for HBO.